Paul McGuire pushed through the heavy glazed door of the surgical block and scanned the walls for a sign which would direct him to Ward 21. The Royal Infirmary was a real rabbit warren and took some navigating especially if you were new to it as he was. A white sign stated that Ward 21 was on the second floor and he headed up the worn, grey stairs. As he climbed the stairs he tried hard to keep the feeling of panic he had felt since the phone call subdued but it wasn’t easy. He reached the second floor and followed the signs to Ward 21. He pushed through a set of double doors and found himself at a small reception desk behind which sat a young nurse who looked at him with a smile, ‘Can I help you?’ Paul stopped, his eyes scanning the beds he could see from the top of the Ward. ‘Aye, I’m looking for Patrick McGuire. I’m his dad.’ Her expression changed almost imperceptibly. ‘Follow me.’ She said standing and walking between the rows of beds until she reached the opposite end of the Ward. She opened a door to a small room in which Paul could see his nine year old son Patrick. ‘The Doctor will be doing his rounds soon and you can talk to him then. His notes suggest the operation went well.’ Paul looked at his son, his precious Patrick now hooked up to drips and a variety of other machines.’ His head seemed swathed in bandages and only his eyes and part of his chin could be seen. They were bruised and discoloured. Paul sat by the bed and took his son’s hand. The nurse gently patted his shoulder, ‘I’ll be back in a while. You stay as long as you want.’ Paul didn’t respond, he merely stared at his son, his frail child’s body seemingly broken like a fragile china doll which had been dropped. ‘Oh Patrick, what’s happened to you son? I can’t lose you too.’
As he gently held his son’s hand listening to his uneven breathing the door opened and a tall man dressed in the white coat of a Doctor entered. ‘Mr McGuire? I’m Doctor Coulter, Consultant neurologist. Can I speak to you?’ Paul looked into the clear blue eyes of the Doctor who regarded him as a kindly Head Master might regard a pupil. ‘What’s the prognosis Doc?’ Paul said quietly. ‘Your son’s brain has swollen since the accident and our initial work to ease the pressure has taken some effect. The next few days will be crucial. His broken bones and cuts will heal in time but you can never be certain with brain injuries.’ Paul held back his emotion, ‘So we just wait and see?’ The elderly Doctor nodded stoically, ‘He’s young, strong. We’ll simply have to be patient. We have state of the art facilities here, Rest assured that all that can be done will be done.’ The Doctor rested his hand on Paul’s shoulder momentarily, ’He’ll get the best care here whatever the outcome.’ As the Doctor left, Paul returned to his son and his thoughts. Nothing to do now but wait, wait and pray.
The following day Paul returned to the hospital and noticed a Celtic shirt draped across the chair by the bed. It seemed to have been signed by most of the team. He wondered who had left it. He had taken Patrick to Celtic Park for the first time when he was three years old and sat him on a crush barrier. Despite a rousing match with Aberdeen, Patrick had fallen soundly asleep. That game seemed like yesterday but was in fact six years earlier. Patrick had accompanied him to the football regularly since then and had grown in his love of Celtic. His favourite player was Paul McStay and it was dream to meet him. Paul and Patrick had waited for an hour outside the stadium one cold, winter’s day for the players to emerge. To his and Patrick’s delight, McStay had signed his shirt and took a few minutes to talk to Patrick. The young boy was star struck, his eyes gleaming as he listened to his hero speak. Paul smiled at his son as he said to the Celtic skipper, ‘Mr McStay, you’re the best. You’re my favourite player.’ The Maestro had smiled at him and ruffled his hair, ‘I’m only the best till you start playing for Celtic, wee man.’
That meeting with Paul McStay on a dark December night in 1987 came in the midst of Celtic’s centenary year. Paul and Patrick had followed the team all over the country hoping to see them make it a season to remember. Just 4 months later, as Celtic fought their way to the top of the league, a speeding driver had pushed all thoughts of football from Paul’s mind.
The days passed slowly and Paul spent every free hour by his son’s bed. Various relatives came and went and offered their support but it was on a bright Saturday morning in April when Paul had hung his jacket over the back of the chair in the small room that Patrick opened his eyes. ‘Da,’ he said weakly. Paul raced to him and took his hand, ‘I’m here Patrick, rest son. rest.’ Paul’s heart was racing as he pushed the button to summon the duty nurse. She entered almost immediately, ‘Everything all right?’ Paul looked at her, ‘He spoke he’s awake.’ She nodded and swiftly exited, ‘I’ll get Doctor Coultar.’ Paul turned to regard his son who blinked at him as if to say ‘Hi Dad,’ Paul took his hand, holding back the tears, and smiled at him, ‘Welcome back Son.’
The week which followed saw a continuation of Patrick’s recovery. The following Saturday Paul arrived at the hospital with a small radio. Patrick smiled weakly as his father tuned it in and sat on the bed beside him. The tinny sound of the radio filled the little room… ‘There must be over 70,000 inside Celtic Park for this match with Dundee. Can Celtic win and clinch an amazing championship in their centenary year?’ Father and son sat on the bed listening in silence to the singing coming from Celtic Park. Within a few minutes Chris Morris had slammed home Celtic’s first goal and Paul McGuire punched the air. ‘Yes! We’re gonnae do it Patrick!’ His son gripped his hand gently, a smile on his face. A few miles away Celtic Park was rocking to its foundations as that huge support roared their team on. Nothing was going to stop them.
Paul was a much happier man as he climbed the stairs to Ward 21 the following Wednesday. As he entered the Ward the nurse smiled, ‘Hi Mr McGuire. You’re son has a visitor.’ Paul entered the little room expecting to see his brother, Eddie or perhaps his even his mum. Instead a smartly dressed young man was standing by the bed telling Patrick some football related story. Paul caught the end of it, ‘So Paul played it up the wing to Chris Morris and he cut it back for Macca, it was some goal.’ The man turned when he realised Paul was there and smiled. ‘All right Mr McGuire, quite a lad you have there. Brave as they come. Just a pity his favourite player is McStay. I mean I’m better than him.’ Paul was amazed to see the unmistakable figure of Tommy Burns. ‘Tommy! What are you doing here?’ The red haired midfielder smiled, ‘Word gets around the Celtic family when one of our own is in need of a wee cheer up. Let’s just say a certain nurse has a brother in the first team.’ Paul nodded, ‘And the Celtic shirt, that was you?’ ‘Naw Mr McGuire, that was Paul McStay. He remembered the wee man saying he was the best. He got us all to sign it.’ Paul McGuire spent a happy hour with his son and the great Tommy Burns. They talked of football, of Celtic and the team’s chances of adding the cup to the league title. As Burns left he hugged both McGuires, ‘Good luck to you both. The Celtic family sticks by its own. Let me know when young Patrick is well enough to come to a game and I’ll organise things for him.’ With that he quietly left the room.
Paul turned to his son who lay on the bed with a smile as wide as the Clyde. ‘I might make Tommy and Paul my joint favourite players. What do you think Da?’ Paul nodded, ‘Good idea son. They’re both great.’